In challenging times like these brought on by the global pandemic, employees look towards the leaders of their organisations to set the foundation for how to deal with current circumstances. The way in which leaders react and treat employees on their teams will make lasting impressions on company culture, employee engagement and retention and the ability to attract and hire new talent. 

So, what are the skills and qualities that the most successful leaders demonstrate, especially in uncertain or crisis situations? And what are the traits that the best leaders will embody in order to lead their team and organisation through successfully?

5 skills and traits effective leaders show

1. Transparency

With openness and a willingness to document everything that they do, the best leaders operate with open doors during a crisis. Transparency is so important because it builds trust - something that becomes invaluable during challenging times when there are many rapid changes. Transparent leaders also build the confidence of the team, and eliminate misunderstandings and the spread of false information. 

2. Decisiveness

Especially during a situation such as the quick spread of COVID-19, circumstances change quickly and an effective leader should have the skills to listen to all the options and the relevant stakeholders, then make quick, decisive decisions that will bring the most benefit to everyone involved. 

3. Excellent communication skills

The importance of communication in a crisis can’t be overstated. An effective leader should be able to speak to employees at all levels in the company, in an open and relatable way. Later, as the acute crisis passes, top leaders know how to communicate with their teams in a way that inspires confidence and builds motivation to keep on through whatever challenges might come next.  

4. Vision

The ability to look beyond the crisis in the moment and see what should come next is extremely important - both in terms of making quick decisions, and to see the way forward to successfully navigate through the storm. Having a strong vision for the company, and being able to communicate it effectively can help employee engagement remain high and drive the organisation forward. 

5. Empathy

Empathy is a hard skill to quantify, but leaders who have it are generally able to lead through challenging times with lots of success. Empathy allows leaders to understand the consequences of their decisions on everyone in the company. It also means that the leader is able to look beyond to inspire, encourage and strategise in ways that will motivate employees at all levels. 

Becoming an empathetic leader

While many of the above-mentioned traits and skills are important in a time of crisis, empathy stands out as one of the most important. Some of the best leaders in the world are highly empathetic, and it shows in their decisions, communication and way of relating with those they are leading. 

Empathy isn’t a quality that comes naturally to everyone, but the good news is that empathy can be developed. Here are five actions anyone can take to become an empathetic leader. 

-Focus on two way communication.

Openly and often, empathetic leader share as much information as possible, even to the point where it seems unnecessary or redundant. That communication should be direct, straight-forward and crafted with the idea that everyone is human and not just a number in the office. And listening is as important as talking - empathetic leaders hear what people are saying and place a strong emphasis on being available for two way communication. 

-Maintain a connection

After the initial essential communications, empathetic leaders make the effort to maintain a connection with people at all levels of the company. Check in on employees to ensure that they are aware of resources available to them, and see how their situation evolves throughout. Mental health is always an important factor in overall productivity and employee engagement - and it becomes even more impactful during a crisis. Reach out to employees often and sincerely. 

-Put yourself in your employees shoes.

A key characteristic of someone who is empathetic is the ability to see situations from various viewpoints of different employees throughout the company. Make the effort to go through exercises in which you regularly think about decisions from a strategic leadership standpoint, but also from the point of view of employees that the decisions will affect.  

-Seek out training. 

The skills that make an empathetic leader can be learned. Look out for training that can help with effective communication, managing people with different personalities, or focuses on developing other leadership skills. 

The way forward into the future

While many processes in the future workplace are moving towards automation, there are others that are becoming increasingly more human-centric. Leadership is one of those things - employees and other leaders alike expect strong leaders with high self-awareness who make decisions with empathy and kindness. Empathetic leaders are the ones who will be in high demand in the future as we make our way into the new normal. 

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